Calder Mobiles (3rd Grade)

Lesson Plan by Amanda E. Gross
National Visual Art Standards: 1, 2, 3, & 5
Cognitive, affective, & psychomotor skills
5 Sessions

[click to view my Mobile Worksheet]

Unit Title: Forms
Unit Goal: Some artists focus on balance & motion when creating forms
Lesson Title: Alexander Calder-Inspired Mobiles
Lesson Goals: Some artists employ design strategies to construct mobiles & “send paint into motion”

Lesson Objectives:  As a result of instruction, students will be able to:

  1. Make a mobile, using wire & foam shapes.
  2. Make a Calder-inspired “sketch” mobile using pipe cleaners, which conforms to stated goals.
  3. Draw a Calder-inspired mobile design onto a provided worksheet.
  4. Understand how a 2D work may translate to a 3D form.
  5. Work with project materials safely & responsibly.
  6. Communicate an idea about balance & movement through a mobile.
  7. Write a reflection & critique their own & peers’ work.

Vocabulary Words: form, mobile, movement, Alexander Calder, balance

Visual References: 
Demo wire mobile, demo pipe cleaner mobile, my worksheet, and the following books: Michael Gibson’s Calder, carmen Giminez’s Calder: Gravity and Grace, Pedro E. Guerrero’s Calder at Home: The Joyous Environment of Alexander Calder, Jean Lipman’s Calder’s Circus, Joan M. Marter’s Alexander Calder, Alexander Rower’s Calder Sculpture, Joan Simon & Brigitte Leal’s Alexander Calder: The Paris Years 1926-1933.

Instructional Support Materials: Dry-erase board, markers, books (listed above), my worksheet, & demo mobiles to demonstrate balance.

Supplies: 6 1-foot wires per student, wire cutters for teacher use, foam shapes (one bowl of shapes per table), pencils, sharpies, paper for written reflections, markers, 6 pipe cleaners per student, worksheet for each student, 1 hole-punch per student.

Assessment Strategies: Individual and group discussions, observation of work periods, students’ final mobiles, students’ worksheet drawings, students’ “sketch” pipe cleaner mobiles, final critique, students’ written reflections.

Evaluation criteria / evidence of success: 

  • Student’s mobile is made of wire & foam, & can hang from a window.
  • Student uses all provided pipe cleaners in her/his design; design shows influence from Calder & also conforms to stated goals: only two wires may connect at one juncture, mobile is balanced, wires will all connect via loops at ends or in the middle.
  • Student chooses significant aspects of Calder’s work to translate into a personal mobile design, & chooses colors & shapes within the given limits.
  • Student appreciates how 2D & 3D relate, & demonstrates this by constructing his/her mobile as a formal representation of their initial drawing.
  • Student is able to follow directions and is careful and competent with wires, pipe cleaners, scissors & hole punch.
  •  Student can verbally articulate how s/he employed the concept of movement in the mobile, & experiments to make her/his mobile balance.
  • Student articulates insightful & respectful comments about the project & the final mobiles, both during the class critique & in a written reflection.

Class Progression:
Day 1: 

1. Motivation: View & discuss “form” & “mobile”
2. Introduce Lesson & explain that students will be making a drawing today
3. Pass out Calder books at each table, & wait 5 minutes or so for students to look at & discuss books at their table, before a group discussion: View& discuss Calder’s work, then write/draw students’ answers on the board:

  • What shapes do we see?
  • What colors do we see?
  • What kind of lines do we see?
  • Discuss movement and why mobiles & “3-D paintings”

4. Explain & pass out worksheets, review the difference between inspiration & copying.
5. Exploration: Students will draw a mobile design on their worksheet, choosing 3 colors, 2 shapes, & drawing 6 lines (will become the wires).  Students will first draw in pencil, trace in Sharpie, & color in marker.

Day 2:
1. Motivation: Review: What did we do last class? What is balance?
2. Show demo mobiles & ask why each is balanced or not.
3. Introduce lesson & review project goals for mobile designs (make it a fun challenge for students to see how many they can fulfill):

  • Use all 6 wires, either whole or cut in half
  • The design should be Calder-inspired
  • A wire must catch the wire that comes below it in the middle (make a loop) or at an end
  • No more than three wires can touch at the same time
  • Mobile must be free-moving, no attachments/enclosed shapes made with the wire
  • One wire is used to hang the mobile

4. Explain the concept of making a “sketch” mobile with pipe cleaners.
5. Exploration: Students finish worksheet drawings.
6. Students make pipe cleaner “sketch” mobiles. Remind students to lift the mobile periodically to see if it’s balanced.

Day 3:
1. Motivation: Review: What did we do last class?
2. Review the following day’s steps verbally, while writing them on the board.
3. Students will get their pipe cleaner “sketches” approved by the teacher.
4. Review balance & how to connect wires.  Discuss wire safety.
5.  Pass out Calder books for student inspiration.
6. Exploration: Students make their wire mobile “skeletons.” To experiment with balance, they might hang them from the backs of their chairs. If they complete their mobiles early, they can make another or help others.

Day 4:
1. Motivation: Review: What did we do last class?
2. Review the following day’s steps verbally, while writing them on the board.
3. Exploration: Work time: Students finish wire “skeletons” for mobiles.
4. When their mobiles are balanced, students will get bowls of foam shapes & a hole puncher.
5. Students who finish early can help others, fill out a written assessment, & then work on a Calder-inspired coloring sheet.

Day 5:
1. Motivation: Review: What did we do last class?
2. Review the following day’s steps verbally, while writing them on the board.
3. Exploration: Work time. Students finish their mobiles.
4. Reflection: When students are finished with their mobiles & short written assessments, everyone will stand in a circle for a critique:

  • Who used balanced particularly well?  Who’s mobile do you like, & why?
  • What did you like, find challenging, & learn about this project?

Modifications + Safety: The worksheet and pipe cleaner mobiles should serve as a visual aid & a place for students to organize their thoughts. Reiterate wire safety rules: no student may cut wire & no student may poke others with wire. For students who are mentally or physically unable to complete stated project goals, further modifications may be made.


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